INSIGHT: Federal Sentencing—To Vary or Depart From the Guidelines?

Bloomberg Law

In an article published in Bloomberg Law on October 10, 2019, Weinberg Wheeler Hudgins Gunn & Dial partner Brooklyn Sawyers Belk discusses the significant distinction between variances and departures from sentencing guidelines and what trial lawyers must know to obtain the best outcome.  

"Federal sentencing hearings are an involved process that should answer essential questions to determine a defendant’s sentence," says Sawyers Belk, adding that in most cases, a trial lawyer may pursue a variance or departure, to strive for a lesser or a higher sentence.  

The United States Code (U.S.C.) sets the minimum mandatory and maximum sentences for offenses. Courts must impose the minimum and never exceed the maximum. “The U.S. Sentencing Guidelines (Guidelines) establish a punishment range based on a defendant’s criminal history and offense,” advises Sawyers Belk, and unlike the U.S.C., the Guidelines are advisory, which allows the court discretion. 

Sawyers Belk recommends bypassing the Guidelines range with a departure or variance motion, and “variance motions are generally your best option because of their straightforward application, so start there,” she says. 

For the full article, you may click here.

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